Friday is one of my favorite days because I get to work as a Technology Volunteer at The Urbana Free Library! I was able to visit the UFL last May when I was looking for apartments in Urbana. I knew as soon as I walked in that I wanted to volunteer at the library. Luckily, UFL accepts library students frequently to participate in their Technology Volunteer program. Each volunteer is expected to work 2 hours a week assisting users in the computer lab. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started working, but every week has been a fantastic experience!
Since I usually work M-F, I started picking up the Friday afternoon shift at the library. It can be quite busy on Friday afternoons, certainly more than I expected! My primary job is placing computer reservations. UFL allows patrons to use the computer without a library card, as long as they are able to present a photo ID (any ID that contains a user’s name and picture). Technology volunteers are asked to assist user’s with any technology-related questions they may have while in the lab. This usually amounts to helping them download, save, print, and email. Sometimes, there are more in-depth problems to solve. I have helped to fill out, format, and scan documents. I have created email accounts and Facebook accounts for users. I have helped with PowerPoint presentations. I have also helped fill out online job applications.
Today, I worked with two women who needed a little assistance. The first problem was easy! The woman needed help printing a document, so she brought her laptop into the library. One of the librarians fielded her question before turning it over to me, and we assumed that she had a document saved on her computer. It wasn’t until I sat down with her and asked her to retrieve the page she wanted to print that I realized that the document she needed was saved as an attachment in an email! Once I confirmed that was correct, I switched gears somewhat to explain how she could access her email account from any web browser. I proceeded to walk her through signing into her email account on the library’s computer. She was shocked to realize she could sign into her email right there! We retrieved the document and printed it, no problem! She was so grateful and such a sweet lady, and I was so happy to have been able to help. I pretty much feel like a superhero when I leave this place.
When I was asked by the librarian to help another patron, I was eager to jump in! This woman was clearly lacking confidence about having to work with a computer, but she needed to edit her resume in order to apply for a job. Despite her uneasiness, she was surprisingly good with the mouse! After volunteering for three months at the UFL, I have noticed that mousing seems to be a particular challenge for a lot of users. Her request seemed easy enough, especially since she mentioned that she had saved her resume to a special folder in her email. It wasn’t until she navigated to the folder that I realized our first problem: her resume was saved as a PDF! I had her open the file, but I explained that typically PDFs are documents that cannot be edited. I tried out a few functions just to make sure that we were on the same page, and then I scrambled to find a solution.
I knew that I didn’t want to send her off without doing everything I could. She needed to get her resume in as soon as possible in order to be considered for a job, and since I am working on my own resume, I knew the pressure she was under. The first thing I tried to do was export the document any way I could. Unfortunately, the PDF Reader we have at the library is Nitro Reader, which only allows a PDF to Word export if you pay for a Pro subscription (we do not). There is an export feature that should convert the PDF to TXT, but it kept producing a blank .txt document. I finally enlisted the librarian for help, but she couldn’t think of any other solutions, except to suggest that I try an online PDF to Word converter. At this point, I left all instruction behind and just started to try things. I tested three or four pdf converters, but we just didn’t have any luck. I had spent nearly 30 minutes working on the problem and had not found any solutions.
I had gathered some other information about the patron while we were working together. I knew that it was a friend who had typed the resume and cover letter. I asked if there was any way to get ahold of her friend since she might have the original files saved in an editable format, but she was on vacation for two weeks! I was preparing this patron for a big letdown. I just knew that there wasn’t anything else I could do. All of my options had failed. It wasn’t until I looked at her email again that I finally noticed something important; the user had emailed the documents to herself! I thought perhaps that meant there were other versions of the documents located on her email. I looked at her sent mail and found that she had sent several emails to prospective employers. I frantically started to click them, hoping to find something useful. Finally, in one email, I found two attachments saved in Word. I could barely contain my excitement!
It wasn’t quite as simple as just downloading the attachment, however, The Word documents were behaving funny when I tried to open them from the email, but I was able to “view online” and export them to Word from there. It was a strange ride. It took an hour, but we finally had a resume we could edit! I spent the next 30 minutes helping the patron format her resume and add new information. Before my two hours were up, we had that baby printed AND stapled. I could barely contain my glee. I had been waiting to offer resume help at the library and I finally got the chance! And I felt like I really helped, you know? It’s a great feeling when you realize all the skills you posses (well, a lot of them, anyway) can be employed in this one glorious moment. I don’t know how I developed the patience or the tenacity to press on with things like this, but it feels good to apply myself creatively towards solving problems like these.